With the COVID pandemic threatening to make traditional classroom education untenable this fall, a handful of my friends have recently asked for help navigating the world of homeschooling, just in case.
Instead of addressing them all individually, I thought it might helpful to publish a few things publicly here on my blog so they’ll be easier to share.
I anticipate publishing this content in 3-4 parts over the next few days.
For this first post, let me address some of my friends’ most pressing questions (And please forgive me if I didn’t do a great job proofreading this. I’ve been staying up super late the past few nights and I’m seeing double) —
“Where do I start?!”
When you start homeschooling, it’s really normal to obsess about “the stuff” of school. The material. “What will I teach!!?” you ask yourself. But, honestly, why you’re teaching and your goals for education are far more important than the materials you use. If you can pin down your “why,” it will be easier to choose your “what.”
If you have your “why” in line, you’ll be able to adapt any materials to your use. (Though some materials are obviously better than others!) Your materials and methods may very well change over time anyway, even with every child. These should change in response to the refining of your goals and your guiding philosophy. So don’t get too hung up on the materials of school first or you’ll miss the whole point of education—“missing the forest for the trees,” as they say.
Speaking personally, my methods of schooling have changed over the past few years as I’ve developed a more refined philosophy of education. I usually tell people I prescribe to a loose Charlotte Mason (CM) philosophy. (I say “loose” because I’m certainly not a purist.) If you’re interested in learning about Mason and her pedagogy, you can read some of her books here but there are some great books about her philosophy that are a little easier to digest, like this one. (And there’s a good primer here, too, if you just want to read something quick online.)
“But how will I know what to teach for science or math, for example? What curriculum should I buy?”
Many of the resources I use here at our home are what you’d consider “the Classics” together with what Mason called “living books.” I do use some modern Classical Christian homeschool materials, as well. But I apply these with a CM method.
I am a bit of a minimalist in regards to schoolwork and materials. Our school days are very book-heavy, with a lot of reading together and we do very little paperwork and very few worksheets, especially in early grades. The kids’ school “work” is mostly accomplished through conversation, in oral or drawn/written narration, which is a hallmark of the Charlotte Mason method. (I’d be happy to explain this concept further.)
And I try to give my kids ample time to work out their education and develop their own unique skills and interests in their unscheduled time. To that end, lessons are short and we don’t clutter our days with unnecessary busy-work.
For now, all of the lesson are done here at home with me (with John teaching most fine art technique and handling the bedtime reading). But now that Izzy is in 6th grade, his independent work is becoming increasingly more demanding and I may eventually have to outsource more of his lessons (like Latin, for example) with tutors, outside classes, or online classes.
I gravitate toward using older “Classics” but I’m not afraid of new materials. And I definitely avoid dry text books and picture encyclopedia types of books, opting instead for beautiful living books that are more humane and memorable. For early grades—prek through about 4th—you can truly teach an entire school year with little more than a collection of picture books and ample time spent outdoors. (Honestly, there are entire websites dedicated to it!)
Some of my favorite homeschool materials/resources.
Many of the books I use—as well as the subject matter I choose for art, poetry, and music, for example–are recommendations found on Ambleside Online, which is an online Charlotte Mason curriculum. I also love to steal recommendations from the book lists published by Read-Aloud Revival for my kids’ independent reading.
We use Singapore Math for our math curriculum. The Primary Mathematics series works best for us, but they do have a Common Core series that might work best for you if your kids will transition back into traditional school. (I don’t bother buying the textbooks until about 5th grade level but if you’re weak in math, go ahead and buy them.) In early years, I find it helpful to teach math conversationally, without workbooks or paperwork. I have never used a curriculum for k or 1st grade math. Edith has asked to “move faster,” so she will be starting a 2nd grade workbook this year so she can work independently.
If you’re looking for a packaged curriculum, I highly recommend The Good and The Beautiful. This will be our second year using one of their Science curricula, as well as a typing curriculum, and they have many more subjects. (We used their Anatomy curriculum last year.)
We use Learning Without Tears for copywork and penmanship/cursive.
Simply Charlotte Mason publishes some really lovely packaged curriculum, especially for artist and composer studies. They have a great elementary arithmetic program.
I like The Well-Trained Mind Classical curriculum offerings but have never used them as scripted. We use their history curriculum–Story of the World–and Grammar–First Language Lessons. (I use these books more a guide for what to teach, not how to teach it. I don’t follow the rules.)
Brave Writer is awesome, too, for developing writing and reading comprehension skills.
Khan Academy is probably the best free secular resource available online. It’s great for educational videos. And I love the math tutorials for times when I need extra help teaching something. (IXL is great for this, too.)
There are as many homeschool curricula available as there are stars in the sky. It can get overwhelming really quickly. Just focus on your goals and philosophy and choose something that you can imagine wanting to take off the shelf every morning.
What about testing and assessments?
We do not do formal testing. Instead, we do oral exams at the end of each term. These exams just walk each child through a few of the things we’ve learned throughout the term to gauge comprehension. I record the conversations and make detailed notes. And it helps me know what’s working and what’s not so I know how to move forward.
I will likely have the kids suffer through two or three standardized tests prior to HS graduation, just to familiarize themselves with the process, but we have not done it yet.
In the state of Ohio you can choose, instead of standardized testing, to submit an assessment of your year’s work. You just need a liscenced Ohio educator to assess the work–sometimes called a portfolio–and verify that your child has done “an adequate amount of work for their ability.” Every assessor is different, but we hire a woman who is a former homeschool mom. We create our portfolio of samples of the year’s work and she talks through it with us and asks a few questions and then signs off on it. She also offers any advice or suggestions we might need for the next year, if we want it. The school system itself will never even see your child’s actual work.
(We would usually submit this assessment to the Superintendent when we submit our official “Intent to Homeschool” paperwork to withdraw for the following year. But, for 2020, due to COVID, assessments are being waived.)
So how do we organize our days so we get everything done?
I’ll run through the basics of our day now and then my next post will have more info about the elements of our school day and what we study, specifically. (So if something doesn’t make sense yet or a concept is completely foreign, stay tuned.)
Click here to see a basic outline of our daily schedule.
Our days begin with rising and preparing for the day. After feeding the kids, I “excuse myself” from responsibilities for about 30-45 minutes so I can focus on what Charlotte Mason called Mother Culture. This is my time for feeding my own body, mind, and soul.
Our school time starts with a Morning Basket.
Then we move into Independent Work.
Then, there is hopefully a nice break before lunch for tidying/chores and resting or outdoor play.
After lunch, we do our Group Lessons, which we can all do together (and is best done when the 3 yr-old is sleeping).
Then we alternate days between Riches–which are often done during a shared tea time or outdoors–and Occupations, which the kids work on independently.
One day a week, we try to hike and do a nature study outdoors. (This is usually our co-op day.) To make this possible, we leave most Fridays pretty wide open but can adjust the day as necessary.
Also–we organize our school year in 3 12-week terms, roughly Labor Day until Memorial Day, with about two weeks’ wiggle room for holidays.